Freydís Eiríksdóttir was said to be born around 970 to Erik the Red (as in her patronym) who was associated with the Norse exploration of North America and the finding of Vinland with his son Leif Erikson. The only medieval and primary sources we have of Freydís are the two Vinland sagas; the Grœnlendinga saga and the Eiríks saga rauða. The two sagas offer differing accounts, though in both Freydís appears as a masculine, strong-willed woman who would defy the odds of her society.
Freydís is described as Leif Erikson’s full sister. This was the first saga written in the late twelfth century and is a crude version of the accounts that happened in Vinland. Freydís is mentioned only once in this saga. This is the most famous account we have of Freydís.
After expeditions to Vinland led by Leif Erikson, Þorvaldr Eiríksson and Þorfinnr Karlsefni met with some success, Freydís wants the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She makes a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half-and-half. Freydis asks her brother Leif Erikson to use the homes and stables that he has built in Vinland. He agrees that they all can use the houses. Helgi and Finnbogi agree that they will bring the same number of men and supplies, but Freydis ends up leaving after the brothers because she had smuggled more men into her ship. Helgi and Finnbogi, arriving early, take refuge in the houses until Freydís appears and orders the brothers to move, as the houses were her brothers and meant for her. This is one of the many disagreements that would happen in the time they are there.
In Vinland, there was tension between the two groups. Helgi and Finnbogi set up a settlement separate from Freydis and her crew. Freydis eventually went to the brothers' hut and asked how they were faring. "Well," responded the brothers, "but we do not like this ill-feeling that has sprung up between us." The two sides made peace.
When she returned to her husband, Freydis claimed Helgi and Finnbogi had beaten her, and, calling him a coward, demanded that he exact revenge on her behalf, or else she would divorce him. He gathered his men and killed Helgi and Finnbogi as well as the men in their camp when they were sleeping. When he refused to kill the five women in the camp, Freydis herself picked up an axe and massacred them.
Freydís wanted to conceal her treachery and threatened death to anyone who would tell of the killings. She went back to Greenland after a year's stay and told her brother Leif Eiriksson that Helgi and Finnbogi had decided to stay in Vinland. However, word of the killings eventually reached the ears of Leif. He had three men from Freydís's expedition tortured until they confessed the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds, Leif still did not want "to do that to Freydís, my sister, which she has deserved". However, he remarked that he foresaw Fredydis' descendants having little prosperity. The Greenlander Saga concludes that everyone thought ill of her descendants afterwards.
Eiríks saga rauða
Freydís is described as the half sister to Leif Erikson. Written after the Grœnlendinga saga in the thirteenth century, this story portrays Freydis as a fearless, and protective woman. She joins an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni, but is only mentioned once in the Saga when her camp is attacked by the Red Skins, or the Skrælingjar. The natives snuck up on the Viking camp in the night and shoot what are believed to be catapults at the warriors. Many of the men, having never seen such weaponry, flee. Freydís hears the commotion and comes out to see the men retreating.
She calls out, "Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon; I think I could fight better than any of you." They give no heed to what she says. Freydis is eight months pregnant at the time, but this does not stop her from running out of her tent and grabbing the sword from her fallen brother in arms, Thorbrand, Snorri's son. Then come the Skrælingjar upon her. She lets down her sark so that one breast is exposed, and strikes her breast with the sword, letting out a furious battle cry. At this the Skrælingjar are frightened and rush off to their boats, and flee away. Karlsefni and the rest come up to her and, instead of praise, rebuffs her behaviour.
Adaptations in fiction
Icelandic artist Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir and Spanish writer Salva Rubio published an illustrated book telling the story of Freydís Eiríksdottir in 2015. Joan Clark published a fictional novel with Freydis as the main character, called Eriksdottir in 2002.
Popular blog-turned-book Rejected Princesses spotlighted Freydis in one of its posts.
Freydis' story is told in first person point of view in Forest Child, Book 2 of the Vikings of the New World Saga, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016).
- Magnusson and Palsson, Vinland Sagas, 2004[page needed]
- "Nuevo libro ilustrado sobre vikingos: Vinland New illustrated book about vikings: Vinland |". Salvarubio.info. 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
- Rubio, Salva and Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir, Vinland: La Saga de Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Thule Eds, 2015, ISBN 978-84-15357-68-1[page needed]
- Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1-85065-420-4.
- Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044154-9. First ed. 1965.
- Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
- Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100003-1
- Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge,Boydell Press, 1991)